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Community members mourn loss of Joseph Colombo

Posted: January 13th, 2012 | Cover stories, News |

USD professor called trailblazer for LGBT acceptance at Catholic University

By Margie M. Palmer | GSD Reporter

University of San Diego (USD) College of Arts and Sciences Dean Mary K. Boyd, Ph.D. last week announced the passing of Prof. Joseph Colombo.

In a statement released to University faculty and staff, in which Colombo was described as being a “passionate and inspiring professor,” Boyd recounted several of the professor’s many contributions to USD.

“His extensive service to the College and University included multiple terms on the University Senate, as well as serving on, and chairing, the CAS ARRT [College of Arts and Sciences Appointment, Reappointment, Rank and Tenure] committee,” Boyd said.

Colombo joined the USD Department of Theology and Religious Studies in 1984 and was appointed chair of the department in 1998 after initially being rejected by the provost. Colombo served as the first openly gay chair of a theology department at a Roman Catholic University in the United States.

Also at USD, the professor served as advisor to PRIDE, the school’s alliance and support group for LGBT students and allies. In 1997, with Prof. Gene Labovitz, Colombo taught the University’s first LGBT-themed course, “Gay and Lesbian Voices,” also against objections from the provost. Sponsored by the Social Issues Committee, the Sociology Department added the course permanently shortly after.

USD Alumni and San Diego District 3 City Councilperson Todd Gloria said he remembers Colombo as being a mentor.

“When I arrived at USD in the mid ’90s, he was the only out person on the entire campus,” Gloria said. “The statement he made as being an out and proud faculty member on a Catholic campus was significant. He carried himself with such poise that it did wonders for myself and other LGBT students, who tried to foot from his example.”

Although Colombo was an accomplished scholar and lent a hand of leadership to the LGBT community, Gloria said, he will remember the professor most for helping blaze trails of acceptance on the USD campus.

“The way I’ll remember him is from when I was still early in my personal development, and seeing him as out and proud, and courageously so,” Gloria said. “He helped myself and others at USD, and he is owed gratitude for blazing that trail. He helped turn what was formerly a hostile environment to one that is more accepting of LGBT students and faculty members.”

The San Diego LGBT Center CEO Dr. Delores Jacobs acknowledged Colombo’s contributions to greater San Diego LGBT causes, as well. Among his many lifetime achievements include his tenure as board member of The Center.

Jacobs said she remembers Colombo as being smart, funny and generous.

“[He] had a deep dedication to helping others and an endless supply of kindness,” Jacobs said. “He brightened the lives of his friends and made his community a better place in a hundred ways, from his time on The Center’s board to the many hours he spent mentoring others. He will be terribly missed for reasons that are too many to count.”

Boyd said the University will hold a reception at the start of the spring semester in honor of Colombo.

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